Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is counting on his new minister for stemming Japan’s population decline to inspire imitators. He’s a father of four.
Katsunobu Kato, a 59-year-old former Finance Ministry official, was appointed Wednesday to a new cabinet post responsible for turning around Japan’s demographic descent. His task: reverse the nation’s sliding birthrate and stem a flow of people leaving the labor force to care for elderly relatives. Japan has the highest percentage of people age 65 or over of all the G-7 nations.
Abe has set some lofty targets. The prime minister last month introduced a goal of boosting the average number of children a woman bears in her lifetime to 1.8 from about 1.4 now. This is part of Abe’s plan to stabilize the population at 100 million in half a century, from the current 127 million.
“The tide is against him,” said Jeff Kingston, director of Asian studies at Temple University Japan. “Marriage rates have gone down, the fertility rate is below replacement level. I don’t think there are many pro-fertility policies the government can introduce that will reverse the trend because of the high cost of raising a kid and the opportunity cost in terms of careers.”